Drawn to Sicily
early British exploration of the classical world

14 April – 14 July 2016
Free

Recommend this exhibition

Charles Gore (1729–1807), View of the Temple of Concord at Agrigentum. Watercolour over graphite, 1777.

This small display features a remarkable selection of drawings by explorers and architects, who discovered and documented some of Sicily’s best surviving classical sculpture and architecture.

The selection of drawings and documents in this display illustrates four expeditions to the island made during the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Grand Tourists and architects. At this time, Sicily was a destination only for an intrepid few – the more conventional Grand Tour focused on Rome, Venice and Naples. Rural and rugged Sicily could be dangerous and, in some parts, inaccessible.

Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), Ruins of the temple at Selinunte with two figures seated on the remains. Pen and grey and brown ink, and watercolour over graphite, 1777.

In 1772, Charles Townley, antiquarian and later British Museum Trustee, went to Sicily to explore the ancient ruins and purchase antiquities. The first half of the display features rare surviving landscape drawings made by his draughtsman John Brown, alongside objects acquired by Townley. The show also includes impressive works by artists Charles Gore and Jacob Philipp Hackert, who travelled to Sicily in 1777 with antiquarian Richard Payne Knight. He wanted to create the first illustrated guide to the island, but the drawings remained unpublished.

Charles Gore (1729–1807), View of Mount Etna. Watercolour over graphite, 1777.

The second half of the display focuses on works by three students of architecture – Charles Robert Cockerell, Samuel Angell and William Harris. Between them, they brought attention to some of the island’s most imposing classical sculpture. Cockerell pieced together one of the giant male figures that supported the roof of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus in Agrigento in 1812 – the largest Greek Doric temple ever built. In 1822/3, Angell and Harris visited Syracuse, Agrigento and Selinunte, and made detailed architectural studies of the classical buildings. At the temples in Selinunte, they discovered near-complete metopes – architectural reliefs which showed mythological scenes. These are some of the best surviving ancient sculpture on Sicily, and their discovery helped tell the fascinating story of Greek art.

Jacob Philipp Hackert (1737–1807), The ‘Ear of Dionysius’
at Syracuse
. Watercolour over graphite, 1777.


The display is related to the special exhibition Sicily: culture and conquest (21 April – 14 August 2016).


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